In my novel, there is money to made in the capturing and selling of 'exotic' animals from a distant, jungle-covered continent, though for various reasons (notably that it is illegal under Roman rule) buyers often like to keep their purchases and contacts secret. So they hire pirates who sail to these strange lands and capture the unusual animals found there. However, often these animals can be quite enormous (e.g T-rex like creatures, giant anacondas etc) and dangerous.

Obviously the hunters would have to have some kind of tranquilizing methods consistent with a voyage at sea taking potentially days. Issues would include how to get the animal on board, how and where too keep the animal, how to keep it sedated, methods for preventing disaster if sedation failed, and importantly, how to keep it alive.

Any thoughts or suggestions would be welcome!

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    $\begingroup$ very relevant story. outsideonline.com/2086576/… $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 1:17
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    $\begingroup$ What is the level of technology? There were pirates in the bronze age, there were pirates with 18th century tall ships, and there are pirates now with speedboats and AK-47s. You mention Roman rule, so is the level of technology roughly late antiqiuty? $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 7:12
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    $\begingroup$ Ixalan 2: Electric Boogaloo $\endgroup$
    – aloisdg
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 10:17
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    $\begingroup$ can someone who is hired to capture animals really be called a "pirate"? $\endgroup$
    – ths
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 11:47
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    $\begingroup$ @user28434 or if the animals make and sail their own vessels, on which they are captured. :-) $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 14:04

8 Answers 8


In eggs

As in, a fertile dinosaur egg, not the adult. Moving livestock is always tricky, even more so when said livestock is composed of strong and dangerous creatures, which have a tendency to die easily in the wrong temperature, thanks to the fact that they're cold-blooded.

If pirates wanted to smuggle these creatures from their distant territories back to these lands, they'd kill the parents and steal the eggs (or just steal the eggs and run like crazy), then ferry the eggs back, and sell them for a tidy profit. Of course, you'd have to prove that it's a bona fide dino egg, so perhaps the pirates would let them hatch into baby dinos on the far side of the ocean, but the easiest way to smuggle a massive T-rex is to just steal a T-rex egg and take it across the ocean like that.

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    $\begingroup$ Nothing like a good sensible answer. Although egg smuggling may have one disadvantage. Travel time may be longer than gestation time inside the eggs. The care & feeding baby tyrannosaurs may not be as troublesome as catering for the adults, but not without its problems. Plus one for commonsense. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 2:05
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    $\begingroup$ I should be mentioned that whether dinosaurs were cold- or warm-blooded is an active debate in the scientific community: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physiology_of_dinosaurs#Metabolic_options $\endgroup$
    – walen
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 8:57
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    $\begingroup$ I said a fake and not a rock. Certainly you can do better than just picking up a rock and say it's an egg. Second of all, if you've never seen a dinosaur egg before, you might be suspicious before buying one for a large a mount of money (and rightly so). Other species might have big eggs but are not dinosaurs (or not the dinosaur you want?). There are multiple reasons why you might want proof. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 13:52
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    $\begingroup$ +1 many animals learn a lot about behavior and how to interact from their mothers. By never giving them the chance to even meet the mother, this would be a great explanation for why pirated Dino's tend to be a little "less stable" than their wild counterparts. Depending on what OP has in store for them, this could be interesting. $\endgroup$
    – scohe001
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 16:14
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    $\begingroup$ @WGroleau I dont think pirates will be worried about animal extinction or climate change. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 18:16

There are a number of questions here, let's take them one at a time.

How to capture / sedate the animal, and keep it alive?

Through its food, what the pirates need is some plant or drug that will keep the animal unconscious. This should be used in it's capture, just prepare a big pile of meat or other food with some of the knockout plant inside. The animal eats it, then falls unconscious. The pirates will need to periodically feed/drug the animal during transit. This can be accomplished with a feeding tube and a way to grind up the food and knockout plant.

How to get the animal on board?

You don't put it on board the ship, rather on a floating barge specifically designed for that purpose. The barge will be towed by the ship. With effort (or beasts of burden) the same barge can be dragged across land to load the beasts, then to a beach suitable for launching the barge.

Where to keep the animal?

It remains lashed down on the barge for the entire trip.

How to prevent disaster?

Provided the animal cannot swim faster than they can sail their ship, all they need to do is cut the tow line to the barge and leave. The longer the line the more safe they'll be.

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    $\begingroup$ So the animal will be exposed to the elements for the whole cruise ... he'd better be really cold and water resistant to survive a 3 weeks transatlantic passage. $\endgroup$
    – Hoki
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 9:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Hoki I guess you'd put appropriate covers on the barge to keep your animal alive. The "barge" doesn't have to be just a flat-bed transporter (although it could be for shorter-distance or fair-weather transport). $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 13:33
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    $\begingroup$ Real-life animal smugglers are notorious for inhumane treatment of their cargo and tolerance of less-than-100% survival rates of even very valuable animals. A system with a 60% chance of bare survival would probably be considered just fine. $\endgroup$
    – CCTO
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Hoki Perhaps much like today's reptiles' cold blooded nature, towing them in the cold could keep them dormant. Would require a plot device to keep it the perfect temp to not kill them and keep them cool until arrival. $\endgroup$
    – Jammin4CO
    Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 18:47

Arr, sail north.

Some modern lizards hibernate when it gets cold.

On the other hand, evidence seems to suggest that dinosaurs probably didn't hibernate.

It may be within the scope of your readers' suspension of disbelief to just accept this in the context of your book about dinosaur-smuggling pirates.


Feed it so it sleeps.

  • Obviously the hunters would have to have some kind of tranquilizing methods consistent with a voyage at sea taking potentially days.

Many reptiles enter into a long period of inactivity after gorging themselves.

  • Issues would include how to get the animal onboard:

Place bait trail and after it crosses the ramp, lift it. Maybe the animal can't swim and won't leave the ship from fear of drowning.

  • How and where to keep the animal

Get a whole ship for it, place ropes or chains and drag it. So there is no fear of TRex munching the crew.

  • how to keep it sedated, methods for preventing disaster if sedation failed

Count on placing a bunch of herbs inside the guts of a dead cow. T. Rex eats the cow and besides falling into the common hibernation, you will also get the bonus of the sedatives.

  • importantly, how to keep it alive.

You will lose some to dehydration/drowning/storms. As long as you get a HIGH sum to make it worthwhile, your pirates won't care.


Transport Juveniles.

A fully grown adult dinosaur would require an independent barge as other answers have suggested. An adult dinosaur would need to be kept sedated through their food or water. In addition, they would require significant care to ensure it's survival in their sedated state and protection from the elements while at sea.

It would become easier if you are transporting juveniles instead. They can be kept in iron cages on the main ship instead. They would require less food and management than an adult.


As a pirate, I know I'm going to need a large ship. It's going to be so ridiculously large, I have no doubt Caesar will outlaw such craft to prevent the smuggle of dinosaurs. So I can't keep it in Rome, or the Mediterranean at all. I'll have to store her in Gaul, where the Empire's influence is weaker.

I shall then sail directly to the new world. Once there, I will incapacitate the creatures with venom derived from snakes. Hauling these beasts onto my ship will be difficult, but they are valuable enough to keep enough hands on board to do the job. I'll store them in the center of my massive ship, chained up, periodically injecting them below the midsection with a paralyzing agent (also derived from snake venom) to prevent their thrashing about.

I will then sail due North, making landfall every night, heading as close to the ice as I dare. When I approach [modern day Greenland], I shall stock up on supplies to feed the beast for the voyage East to Britannia. Landing in Britannia, I shall again stock up on supplies to sail the relatively short distance to Gaul. I shall off-load the beast there, and make the journey on foot into the Empire.

Larger beasts will not eat me or my crew, provided they are well fed, humans are too small to be worth the effort. Mid-sized beasts may very well make the attempt, so it is best to keep them heavily sedated.

The long necked beasts are worth the effort only once a season, as they fetch a fine price, but can only be taken one at a time.


À la Gulliver's?

In Jonathan Swift's novel, when Gulliver travels to Lilliput, he finds himself tied down and held by several ropes onto the land.

A dinosaur could have been sedated and tied on top of a structure, that would later be used as a raft?

The raft then would be towed by ships, which would keep the crew safe, short of the chosen sailors who have to go check on the creature once in a while.


Assume they are cold-blooded. Cold-blooded reptiles are poikilotherms and torpid if not exposed to a source of heat. They need to bask in sunshine or sit in a warm place in order to raise their body temperature. You can play around with a cold gators mouth and it won't do more than give you an angry stare. So, if you assume that the dinosaurs were cold-blooded (which they apparently weren't) then the problem amounts to keeping them cool, say in the ships hold, refrigerated with some salted ice.

If Hannibal managed to get voracious elephants to Italy from northern Africa, then bringing over a few dinos should be a breeze.


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